Streetwise

How street food is influencing the restaurant business

The food industry is an exciting place to be, and whether we’re producers, conveyors, purveyors, creators or consumers, it affects us all. But it’s a two-way street – we influence the industry as much as it influences us. The innovations, the popular movements, where we choose to spend our money all play a major role in determining what the hottest new food trends will be.

Street food is not a new creation. It has been around for centuries, dating back to Ancient Greece, where small fried fish were sold in the streets of the powerful empire. Evidence of street food vendors has even been excavated from the remains of Pompeii and, in these historic cultures, street food would typically have been that of the lower classes, who did not have access to hearths.

In today’s modern, fast-paced digital age, street food has evolved and developed with the times, no longer representing a ‘poor man’s meal’, but rather an indication of the food fashions and flavours that are hot-right-now on the culinary scene.

The street food of the 21st century represents the flavours and fare that are ‘trending’. It’s generally viewed as authentic to its origin, good value (being cheaper than a restaurant meal and better in nutrition and taste than franchise fast food) and a quick and easy to eat option.

Food trucks and food truck parks are a phenomenon that has boomed in recent times. These mobile caterers are now an everyday occurrence in our lives, often spotted trawling our cities for their new resting place to feed the hordes of hungry, or across social media boasting their locations for the day. Apps have been developed around food trucks, allowing street food connoisseurs to track the whereabouts of their favourite vehicular eateries, or to discover which cuisines and trucks are in their area at any given time.

The street food sensation has made a significant impact on the culinary industry, so much so that it can be seen affecting the traditional restaurant business. Its influence is creeping into the menus of fixed restaurants and catering companies, changing both the styles and the flavours of the dishes on offer. Street food has introduced people to bold, global flavours – bringing a world of cuisines, tastes and recipes to their fingertips. People are becoming accustomed to trying new and exciting things, to opening a menu and finding the unfamiliar, and relishing the excitement of experiencing something unknown. And when a food or a cuisine is trending, saturating social media and culinary news, people naturally want to try it, and so they seek it out. As a result, we see restaurants offering seasonal menus and changing their options to keep up with the trends of the time.

Many Mexican restaurants are a classic example of street foods that have found their way into bricks-and-mortar dining menus. Dishes such as tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, empanadas, fajitas and nachos began as antojitos (‘little cravings’) and have become – in the Western world – restaurant staples and legitimate meals. Melbourne institution Fonda is an embodiment of this movement, with its seven restaurant locations (plus one Sydney outlet) featuring menus brimming with traditional street foods, from its popular charred corn cob to gourmet fish tacos.

Similarly, the traditional Chinese dish of bao, which has become increasingly popular in restaurants around Australia, is typically eaten as a street food in its country of origin. In many Chinese cultures, bao (a steamed yeast bun filled with meat or vegetarian fillings and served with soy sauce or vinegar) is often eaten for breakfast and is favoured as a portable snack. In Japan, where it is also popular, bao is typically sold in convenience stores. The bao’s rise in popularity in Australia has seen it introduced into traditional restaurant menus, alongside dumplings and wontons. New Shanghai, a Chinese restaurant that has locations in Sydney and Melbourne, includes its xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings) and its crab meat bao on its menu as its signature dishes.

Another vital appeal of street food that is trickling into restaurants is the nature of the meal – the style of eating street food encourages the shareable meal. As interests are piqued, and taste buds ignited, diners want to try a wide array of menu items. Rather than ordering an entrée and main, people are adopting the sharing plate style of dining – ordering a wide variety of small, medium and large dishes to share among the entire table; therefore, allowing them to sample extensively from the menu and taste many different dishes. This mix-and-match style of dining provides restaurant patrons with a low-risk way of trying different foods or dishes they may not otherwise order and giving them the opportunity to taste a broader spectrum of a region’s cuisine.

The street food method of dining has taken the social, playful and easy-going nature of experiencing food and flavour and brought it from the streets into restaurants. And with good reason – let the flavour adventure continue.

 

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